Nicolas Cole: The Truth about Fitness Models, Celiac Disease, & Tips for Hard-Gainers

Nicolas Cole went from a scrawny, unhealthy, 100-pound teen struggling with Celiac disease to a jacked 170-lbs physique model. Nicolas has been on the show before, and he’s back answering your questions about the ever elusive subject: how to gain muscle mass eating clean, Paleo, and Wild foods.

But before we get to the show, I want to ask you something. Do you have an iPhone, iPad, or Android?  My team and I have spent months making some of our best recipes into super-awesome, top-rated apps for your phone and tablet.

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Gluten-Free Desserts – These are some of the best low-carb, gluten-free goodies Alyson and I have ever put together. We live on these desserts and really hope you like them. Apple cider donuts, old-fashioned apple pie, and other ridiculously tasty treats are all waiting for you inside.

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Are you ready for the review of the week?  This one of from “70 year old guy,” who says:

On the 26 of December I looked at a picture of me sitting in a chair with my face cheek so fat it was hanging on my shoulder.  349 lbs. and not alive, I started a search for a method I could live with to get healthy.  Yes high blood [pressure].  Yes diabetes.  Yes low D.  Yes a friend told me I had less than 6 years to live. Today 6 June, I am 277, off most of my meds and headed, with my fat coffee in hand, down a road of better health and a reduction of pain.  Thank you Abel.  You are common sense, write a good book, best interviews, married well, and saved my life.

If you’d like to support the show, take a minute and leave a review. I read every single one of them and always appreciate it.

Okay, now on to the show with Nicolas Cole, where we talk about:

  • Why fitness models don’t actually look like their pictures
  • How to build the workout habit
  • The truth about drugs in bodybuilding and modeling
  • How to eat as a hard gainer
  • And much more…

Here’s the show.


Nicolas Cole went from a scrawny, unhealthy, 100-pound gamer who was ranked one of the top World of Warcraft gamers in the world… to being a 170 pound man-beast fitness model and writer.

About a year and a half ago, I had just started finding a gym and a community here in Chicago… and that’s when I went from keeping it all to myself (my fitness regime) to really putting it out there. I had just started working at the ad agency I’m at now.  I went from long hair to short hair—people didn’t recognize me.  And for the first time, I really felt that all those years I put into fitness gave me some credentials, enough to where I could help someone.

In high school I was very sick and underweight. I had celiac disease and didn’t know it until I was eighteen. I couldn’t get girls to pay attention to me or guys to respect me. Over the course of five, six, seven years, I made this transformation where I wasn’t that kid anymore. I am treated differently now.

Nicolas Cole Before and After

“People assumed that I’d always been confident, but I hadn’t.  I had to grow into myself.”

Now, I’m thinking, “What can I do with this?  What positive impact can I make?”


What did you learn in the gym that you can apply to the rest of your life?


But actually, it goes back to World of Warcraft—I treated it like other people treated hockey.  I was very disciplined, which is why I got to such a high level. The gym is the perfect thing for gamers like me.

“I could talk about discipline with video games but no-one would really get it. When I talk about discipline with the gym and I can physically show the transformation in my body, then people start to understand.”


What are some things you did back when you started on your fitness journey, but you cut out because they weren’t working?

The hardest part is when you’re a hard-gainer and you have an extremely fast metabolism, the hardest part is not overworking yourself. Your body is already burning so quickly. There was a point when I was lifting too frequently.

Nicolas Cole: The Truth about Fitness Models--you always think the issue is with the gym, but it's always about the food.

You always think the issue is with the gym, but it’s always with the food. Click To Tweet

I was burning more than I was taking in.

For me it’s been really difficult—you say you’re gonna put 3 hours in the gym.  I was spending four hours in the gym, and when you’re not eating more it’s really hard to put on weight. I see a lot of people with that same problem… How can I put on size?  Focus more on the food than the gym.

What does the food look like for you?

I eat really clean. A lot of my friends can get bigger faster because I’m allergic to gluten and I’m dairy sensitive—so I’m no fun at a party.

I stay eating really clean and what that looks like is:

  • A healthy carb—sweet potatoes, brown rice, white rice.
  • Vegetables
  • A healthy fat– coconut oil, avocado, which are great calories. If you have a fast metabolism, healthy fats are really good for you.
  • A protein—steak, chicken, fish, and that’s pretty consistent.
  • I try to force myself to do a cheat meal once in a while, but even those stay pretty healthy—a burrito bowl at Chipotle is moderately good for you.

When do you start eating?

The last time you were on we got a lot of questions from hard gainers, which is the opposite problem most people are having, because most people are trying to lose weight.  But putting on weight can be hard for people who have celiac disease or other health issues. Putting on weight can make you feel better, it resets your hormones and gives you more energy throughout the day.

You’ve combined the world of clean eating, paleo, and Wild, to something that seems like a bizarre problem. How often are you eating, and how are you cycling all this food?

You nailed it—it’s a completely different problem.  The hardest part is that a lot of people don’t understand what actually goes into eating that much food.

I show up at work with three huge Tupperware containers of food.

At first, there was a lot of force feeding going on—you have to get through that initial phase of eating so much food and getting your body used to it. It took about 2 years. Even now, if I’m going to add in another meal, my body has to adjust.

Cole’s Daily Meal Plan

7:30am—Breakfast. This would typically be 3–4 full eggs with one or two egg whites, gluten free bread or gluten free oatmeal (from a gluten free facility), turkey bacon, avocado— I sometimes even add a hamburger patty with my eggs.

Then, I eat every two hours throughout the day.

I really don’t do supplements.  I’ve been fortunate, I have a lot of friends who are bodybuilders and they’ve given me supplements to try— I don’t feel like I need them.

I’m not on supplements. It’s really all food.  Six meals a day, stacking carbs, then I lift, then afterward I have some sort of white carb and a protein.

How do you keep that interesting?

Being gluten free has given me a newfound appreciation for food. People ask me, “What’s your favorite kind of food?” Gluten free. I just don’t want to get sick.

When I get sick of the food, that’s when I go down to Chipotle or get a gluten free burger at the place around the corner.

If I go from six meals to three, or for whatever reason I fall out of my habits, I look in the mirror and see it. With how long it takes to put that weight on, it comes off that fast. You can’t let go completely.

“When I first started, it took a long time to get momentum. But now that I’ve started, I don’t want to stop. It’s no longer difficult, it’s part of my life.”

There’s a temptation to keep pushing it. How do you balance that in the gym or in life, getting to the point where you don’t push beyond your nice groove?

We always want more.  I’ll be honest, as of late I feel like I’ve found a place where I’m really comfortable.  I’m lifting heavy enough weight where I’m proud of what I’m doing in the gym, but I’m not having to buy new clothes every six months.

I’ve found a general space where I’m happy, but it took me a long time.

I had been in that mode of always more—but then I realized I was never going to compete.  That was a changing point for me. I have friends that complete, they’d sort of push me and say I could really do this. I was considering it, then I realized there were other things I wanted to do instead.

“I feel weird using the term bodybuilding because the real bodybuilders take it more seriously.  I’m a creative, and a writer, and there are other things I want to spend my time doing.”

How many other people are just like that—they want to improve their health to a certain degree—but this is just one aspect of who they are?


It’s pretty easy to take it too far—there are institutionalized eating disorders in a lot of those circles. Your story is a good example to other people where you can reach a certain point and then branch out.

When you’re doing it, you’re so tunnel-visioned in it.  There was a point when me and my close friends realized, “We’re slightly out of balance here.” In order to be in that top, top percent, you have to go out of balance.  You can’t be a jack of all trades and also be in that top, top percent.

At some point I had to ask myself the question:  “Is this the domain I want to be in the top percent of?”  In order to do that, I’d have to make sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make.

It’s sad that a lot of spokespeople for health are not really that healthy. @Nicolascole77 Click To Tweet

You start to see inside of the industry, it’s really not what it seems to be at all. They say to drink this protein shake or take this supplement, but they’re not doing it. That’s not what health is about.

It’s about transforming yourself, and then figuring out what that leads you to. - Nicolas Cole, World of Warcraft Champion, model, bodybuilding, hard-gains

“It’s about transforming yourself, and then figuring out what that leads you to.”

What are some of the misconceptions that other people have about what’s effective in bodybuilding?

The belief that you need supplements.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me in the gym and asked what supplements I take. I’ve taken creatine and tried protein powder, but that’s not really what got me to where I am. The real answer is food.

You have to prep your food in advance, and get up early to cook six meals a day, and no-one wants to hear that. It’s unfortunate, and they’ll figure it out. They’ll put in the work and they’ll get it.

It’s 70% food, 30% workout routine. @Nicolascole77 Click To Tweet

It’s easy to lose sight of how good we have it.

To bulk up the right way is to eat fat—healthy fats, not processed stuff.  While it might seem like someone who has this perfect body has the perfect supplement/shake/workout—it’s really just about food.

“It’s absolutely about food.”

A lot of people don’t understand that what they’re looking at is performance-enhancing drugs.  That was the fork in the road for me. I realized that in order to take the jump, that would be what I’d have to do.

That’s not what it took. I wanted to show how far you can go without it. Do I sacrifice that last top percent? Okay. I go back to food, and what are my habits?

If you’re struggling, ask yourself how much you are drinking!

Even if you’re eating the healthy food, and you’re still going out and drinking a ton, you’re defeating the purpose. You have to rethink your approach. It’s a lifestyle, it’s how you treat yourself and your body.


Most people don’t realize there’s an off-season—the vast majority of the time, they don’t look like that.

Even when I do photoshoots, what I look like in the moment they take the picture is not what I look like even the few hours leading up to it.  If I’m prepping for a photoshoot, I’m going to eat different for that week—by the time they take the pics, all the variables come together. After the shoot, you go back to looking like a normal person.

Sometimes when you go to the beach, you take your shirt off and someone’s like, “You don’t look like your picture.”  You can sense their disappointment, but that’s reality. It’s how a normal person looks.

The photoshoot stuff is so hard—you’re always comparing yourself to your own picture, and everyone else’s pictures.  You’re comparing your average self to the pic, where all the variables lined up at that one moment.

I don’t want to discount anyone else’s hard work—you walk around as a bodybuilder and people will notice.  It’s important for us to be honest about that process.

The bodybuilder’s body is a work of art, and it was created very, very purposefully. But it’s not the whole story. - Nicolas Cole, Bodybuilding, hard-gains, paleo, workouts, celiac

“The bodybuilder’s body is a work of art, and it was created very, very purposefully. But it’s not the whole story.”

It creates a disconnect—I could never be that.  Most things you see in traditional media are not only Photoshopped… but the competitors or models stayed like that for a small window.

Most people don’t look like they do in actual pictures.  I’m one of those people—my friends call me the magician. In pics I look a lot bigger than I actually am, and that’s okay.

I admire the sport of bodybuilding and what they do. A few of the pro bodybuilders and models I know, when you see them in real life, they look ridiculous (as in, awesome).  They really do, and that’s really cool, but not everyone can get there.

It’s all about why you are doing this. It’s really a philosophy on how to live a happier, better life. Why do you want to do this?  Is it to live longer?  Then those are totally different goals.  There are different ways to get there.

If that’s your goal, go for it. Go learn from the people that are living that, and they’ll tell you that road is very different. What do you want to go for, and then implement.

You can’t look like that and also be on that road of being very healthy.  The top, top people, eat very well and are disciplined, and those are the ones that peak out very early. Others have lost their lives because of it.

It’s really disheartening to all of a sudden realize there is a difference—are you trying to be healthy, or are you trying to be on a magazine cover?


I had a really awesome experience six months ago on the website, Quora.  Someone had asked the question, “Is it possible to change yourself so much that you no longer recognize yourself?”

I answered, and I talked about my experience being sick and skinny, now 170 pounds and shot with one of the most well-known fitness photographers in the industry. I look back on pics of myself and wonder who that kid was.

The post went to Reddit, went viral and got a million views. People started emailing me.  I threw together a website and two e-books—what I eat every day, how meals are structured, workouts—the response has been incredible.  So many people are reaching out—I never realized how many people were in that situation.

They know where they want to be, but they don’t know how to get there.

You can find Nicolas and his books at  Also follow him on Twitter at @Nicolascole77.

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